Bust Out Those Talents!

Saturday, September 1, 2018

        Readings:  http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/090118.cfm

Mt25_18 talent

Today, in Mercy, Paul encourages us to consider our calling to discipleship. He makes it clear that we are humble recipients of God’s generosity. We owe everything that we are, and every gift that we have, to God.

In the Gospel, Jesus tells us that we must use these gifts for the building up of God’s Presence in all Creation. The parable condemns the one who buries his talent rather than shares and increases it.

True humility can free us of these obstacles. Recognizing that it is “due to God’s grace that we are in Christ Jesus”, we shift our focus from self-concern to concern for God’s Creation. We invest our talents in the works of Mercy so that the God’s riches flourish in us and in those whom we love and serve. This is the community of faith to which we are called to be vigorous contributors of our talents, no matter how humble they may seem to us.

Enjoy this lovely instrumental selection as you consider the many gifts God has given you.

Music: Due Tramonti (Two Sunsets) ~ Ludovico Einaudi

The Power of the Cross

Friday, August 30, 2018

     Readings: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/083118.cfm

Today, in Mercy, in our first reading, Paul assures the Corinthians that his primary mission is preaching the cross of Jesus. This awesome calling required great grace because the message of the cross sounds like foolishness to the faithless heart.

1Cor1_17_ cross

Indeed, the cross is incomprehensible in human terms. How can agony and death bring us all eternal life? Why does the truth of the cross need to be rooted in my life if I am to be fully enfolded into Christ?

These questions can’t be answered in a catechism — or even on Google! These answers blossom in us in a wordless relationship with Jesus through prayer, loving sacrifice, and merciful tending of Creation.

A half century ago, when I first came to the Convent, we had a communal practice called “Three O’clock Prayer”. Every Friday at 3:00 PM, those Sisters not engaged in ministry gathered in chapel for this brief prayer to ponder Christ’s death. It was during that prayer, on November 22, 1963, that word came to us of President Kennedy’s assassination. It was a day we all desperately reached for the deep mystery of the cross.

On many Fridays over these decades, I have returned to this time of prayer, asking God to hold our crucified world in his resurrected arms. On this last day of August, we may want to think about such a prayer. Our world surely needs it.

Music: Jesus the Lord – John Foley, SJ & Roc O’Connor, SJ

Let this magnificent hymn take you into the depth of Christ’s heart.

Faithful Servant

Thursday, August 30, 2018

     Readings: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/083018.cfm

Mt. 24_25 faithful servant

Today, in Mercy, Jesus describes the faithful and prudent servant – the one who has devotedly overseen the master’s holdings in his absence. This faithful servant will have administered according to the master’s own example, and not for a moment divert into his own pursuits and entertainments.

Paul, in our first reading, offers a sublime prayer of thanksgiving for such servants in Corinth:

I give thanks to my God always on your account
for the grace of God bestowed on you in Christ Jesus…
so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift.
He will keep you firm to the end,
irreproachable on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.
God is faithful, and by him you were called.

I am moved this morning to pray this prayer for our beloved Pope Francis, who is sorely tested by the sins and rivalries of the Church he cherishes. 

May God give our brother Francis the strength to lead according to Christ’s own example, keeping him strong and confident in God’s faithfulness. May each of us, too, shoulder our part in building up the Body of Christ in mutual love, mercy and justice.

Music: Great is Thy Faithfulness – sung by Chris Rice

Choices

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

          Readings: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/082918.cfm

Today, in Mercy, we memorialize the Passion of St. John the Baptist, his imprisonment and beheading at the hands of Herod, the whim of Herodias, and the weakness of Salome. This incident, with its accompanying history and ensuing repercussions, is a classic psychological study in good and evil.

IMt 6_24_Baptist

The characters have repeated themselves in every generation:

Herod: the weak, corrupt, fearful man whose entire energy is spent satisfying himself at the cost of others
Herodias: the faithless, power-hungry schemer who will use any means to advance herself – the holder of grudges
Salome: the spineless sycophant who submits to her mother’s evil agenda is order to preserve her privilege
John: the enlightened protester who suffers the ultimate sacrifice for his beliefs

The passage, like all Bible stories, offers us an opportunity to measure ourselves, and our choices, against these ancestors. 

Bits of each of them rise up in us, challenging us over the course of a lifetime. Our challenges may not have the sweeping dramatic overtones of this story, but they still have the power to color our entire character.

  • Do I use my power for or against others?
  • Do I try to hurt, or shun, others because of my harbored grudges and selfish agendas?
  • How do I respond to the pressure to cooperate with, or ignore, evil?
  • Could my commitment to Christ withstand even death – not only physical death, but the death of a relationship, job, dream, or cherished possession?

John the Baptist dies because he has confronted the sins of Herod, Herodias and Salome. But they cannot disentangle themselves from their knotted immorality. They conspire to take John’s life physically, ultimately eternally strangling their own.

We all have choices – big and small. For George Jones in the attached song, the choice was about drinking. But the song works for whatever choice might divert us from the path to wholeness in God. Maybe we can plug in our own challenges as we listen. Maybe we can be braver the Herod, Herodias and Salome. Maybe John will inspire us!

Music: Choices – George Jones

Fear or Faith?

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

       Readings:  http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/082818.cfm

Mt 23_24 camael gnat

Today, in Mercy, Paul talks seriously with the community at Thessalonika. Some early Christians expected the final coming of Christ to happen imminently. They had become upset, and somewhat obsessed, with concerns and rumors about “the end times”. Reactions range from fear to panic to denial.

Paul basically tells the community to settle down – “Hold fast to the traditions that you were taught.” In other words, focus on the core teachings of your faith – love, service, and grateful, joyful worship – not on the imagined fears of some unenlightened shouters.

We see such misdirection manifested in fundamentalism, scrupulosity, exaggerated devotional practices, cultic behaviors, even superstitions – the kinds of attitudes Jesus condemns in today’s Gospel.  These conditions cause us to become judgmental, elitist and superficial. They distract us from attention to the heart of our faith – mutual love, unselfish service, merciful justice, Christlike inclusivity.

Even as I write this reflection, we have a Church — like Thessolonia — fraught with turmoil.  Many call it unprecedented, although any student of Church History knows it is not. Still. it is a time when we who love the Catholic faith must pray for light, courage and fidelity. Let us pray too for Pope Francis that he may rely on the Holy Spirit to help him act courageously and definitively, as Paul did, to right the Beloved Community.

As for each of us, the fullness of God needs a large soul – not one shrunken by its own pettiness, fears, and self-righteousness. As St. Augustine prayed:

Narrow is the mansion of my soul;
enlarge Thou it,
that Thou mayest enter in.

Music: A Heart Like Yours ~ CeCe Winans

All That Is Upon the Altar

Monday, August 27, 2018

          Readings:  http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/082718.cfm

we always pray for you

Today, in Mercy, on the feast of St. Monica, I think of all the good priests and religious throughout the world, whose hearts weep with victimized children, whose souls rage at the treachery of their brethren, and whose dreams of fealty with the People of God lie wounded at their feet.

In our first reading, Paul speaks to these religious and to all of us who love the Church:

We ought to thank God always for you, brothers and sisters,
as is fitting, because your faith flourishes ever more,
and the love of every one of you for one another grows ever greater.
Accordingly, we ourselves boast of you in the churches of God
regarding your endurance and faith in all your persecutions
and the afflictions you endure.
This is evidence of the just judgment of God,
so that you may be considered worthy of the Kingdom of God
for which you are suffering.

Let us encourage each other, servants of God and of God’s People – in this time of suffering but also of renewal – not only to remain true, but to become truer. For as Jesus says in the Gospel:

” One who swears by the altar swears by it and all that is upon it;
one who swears by the temple swears by it
and by him who dwells in it;
one who swears by heaven swears by the throne of God
and by him who is seated on it.”

St. Monica, who prayed incessantly for the deep conversion of your son Augustine, pray for us in our time of testing. Amen.

Music: Servant Song ~ Richard Gillard

Fish, or Cut Bait!

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Readings: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/082618.cfm

Today, in Mercy, our Sunday readings present us with spiritual ultimatums.

Jn6_67 Chhose

In our first reading, sensing his impending death, Joshua gathers the tribes on the Great Plains of Shechem – the land of their father Abraham. Joshua requires a commitment from the people:

“If it does not please you to serve the LORD,
decide today whom you will serve …
As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”

In other words, “fish or cut bait” – you’re either with God, or you’re not. And your lives should reflect the choice.

In our Gospel, Jesus too feels death’s approach. His teachings have become more intense and direct, particularly regarding the Eucharist. This intensity has caused some of his listeners to waver. They’re not sure they can accept his words. Some drift away.

Jesus challenges the Twelve, those on whom he depends to carry his message after his death.

“Do you also want to leave?

( As for the unfortunate and contested second reading from Ephesians, this long but superb article from Elizabeth Johnson is worth your time.

Click here for Johnson article. )

Music:  I Will Choose Christ – Tom Booth

Only One Place to Begin

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Readings: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/082518.cfm

Today, in Mercy, as the Catholic Church continues to struggle with the reality of institutional corruption, our Gospel reminds us of the solution Christ gave us as the Church was born.

Mt3_9one father

As Jesus instructed his disciples somewhere near Jerusalem, the Pharisees and Scribes edged along the crowd, seeking reasons to attack him. They saw Jesus as the evil that would destroy their religion. They were unable to see the evil within themselves eating away the substance of their faith.

Jesus says the signs of that corrosion are evident: empty preaching, contradictory lifestyles, doctrinal oppression, the failure to serve with compassion. He condemns the pharisaical  pretense at leadership which cloaks an avarice for singularity and entitlement. He denounces the hierarchies which faithlessness builds to protect its selfish interests.

Scripture scholars believe that the writer of Matthew emphasizes this strongly cautionary passage because he sees the same sins emerging in the early Church. Less than a century after the Resurrection, institutional decay already plagues the Christian community.

Is it, indeed, impossible to form a human community without these imperfections eventually fracturing it? Jesus says no, it is not impossible. But the way is incontrovertible:

“As for you, do not be called ‘Rabbi.’
You have but one teacher,
and you are all brothers and sisters.
Call no one on earth your father;
you have but one Father in heaven.
Do not be called ‘Master’;
you have but one master, the Christ.
The greatest among you must be your servant.
Whoever exalts himself will be humbled;
but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”

Removing centuries of accretions from our Church, deconstructing embedded hierarchies, and returning to the humble model of Christ are the daunting tasks before us. Where can we possibly begin?

It is at the only place we can ever begin — ourselves. 

What allegiance and investments do I have in the elements that have crippled our Church? Is my “membership” simply a cosmetic on my otherwise uncommitted life, or am I willing to share real responsibility for reforming and enlivening the community of faith? Let’s pray these questions together as a faith community desiring healing.

Music: Philippians Canticle ~ John Michael Talbot

Remember Your Fig Trees

Friday, August 24, 2018

Readings: Click here.

Jn 1_48 fig

Today, in Mercy, we celebrate the Feast of the Apostle Bartholomew, also known as Nathaniel. As with many of the Apostles, little is known of Bartholomew’s life outside of a few Gospel stories. John’s Gospel tells the wonderful story of Nathaniel’s call by Christ.

The encounter is a very personal one. Jesus and Nathaniel share a conversation that must have impressed the other listeners because it was remembered and recounted word for word in the Gospel.

One exchange, in particular, carries deep significance for Nathaniel. Jesus says that there is no duplicity, or pretense, in Nathaniel. There is a transparency in him shared even with God. Nathaniel wonders out loud , “How do you know me?” Jesus answers, “Before Philip called you, I saw you under the fig tree.”

What was going on with Nathaniel under that fig tree? A moment of intense prayer, questioning, decision, doubt, hope? Whatever it was, Jesus had shared it, even at a distance. When Nathaniel realizes this, his faith in Jesus and vocation to follow Him are confirmed. Nathaniel professes, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.”

Where are the fig trees in your life story — those moments when, looking back, you realize that God was with you even though seeming distant?

What were the turning points in your faith, when you came out from under the shadow of a challenging experience, to the grateful amazement that God had accompanied you through it.

What are those pivotal, intimate moments when it was just you and God – those transparent moments that changed your life?

If you can’t recall any such moments, perhaps you are not giving yourself the time and space to let God reach you.

It might be time to seek out a “fig tree” – a place of spiritual solitude where you may speak honestly and directly to God about the most important things in your life. Open your heart, like Nathaniel, to hear what God already knows about you.

Music: The Memory of Trees – Enya (Some lyrical New Age music to listen to under your fig tree!)

 

 

A Stony Heart

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Readings: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/082318.cfm

Ez36_26 stone

Petrified! We’ve all been there:

  • an unexplained sound in the house at night
  • the suggestion of a traumatic diagnosis
  • a threat delivered by natural or human power

These are just some of the circumstances that come into our lives, causing us to freeze – to be unable to respond.

But there are internal forces too that immobilize us:

  • indecision
  • buried anger or pain
  • depression 
  • envy and jealousy 
  • self-doubt
  • addiction
  • all the seven “deadlies” in their multiple disguises

These conditions of the spirit have their root in fear – fear of making the wrong decision, of engaging someone who angers us, of not being successful or popular, of looking foolish, of confronting pain, of losing the things we have no hold on anyway, of being different, alone, or abandoned.

These immobilizers suck the life out of us, rendering us but a stony outline of the full and glorious spirit God intends us to be. They ensnare us and blind us to the depth and power of our hearts. Faith, hope and charity become brittle in us. We fragment, rather than thrive, in the normal challenges of living.

This happened to Israel as they yielded their allegiance to idols and sin. But our ever-merciful God says he is going to wash these numbing poisons out of their hearts, giving them new hearts to love and serve him.

Sometimes we are so used to our dysfunctions that we don’t even see all the petrified spots in our relationships and behaviors. Maybe today, trusting God’s promise of a new heart, we might be willing to examine ourselves for signs of stoniness toward God, Creation, and Self.

Music: Heart of Stone ~ David Bilborough